Graduate School is just around the corner, and students are scrambling to order their transcripts, find their references, and get their CV all in order before applying to a program. I remember when I started this process the first time and I was anxious. Many questions zipped through my mind:

Will I get in?

What if my application sucks? 

What school will I go to? 

Now, a year later, I am proud to announce that I am officially a Master of Public Health (MPH) student in Health Policy and Management! I have been looking forward to attending graduate school for a very long time, but I definitely wish I had an application fairy godmother to guide me through the process.

Lucky for you, you have me!

While I don’t have a magic wand or wings, I do have some tips that I think got me into graduate school! 

Part I: Picking a program that fits you.

First, you need to decide whether you want to do an MPH or a Master of Science (MSc) program in Public Health. If you are interested in Public Health research, an MSc is likely the better option. However, if you prefer a more ‘practical’ program, an MPH is the program for you. I personally don’t think there is a wrong way to go about breaking into the world of Public Health, you just have to think about what you want. It is also important to keep in mind that one path does not necessarily exclude you from opportunities found in the other, it is just that one program is optimized to facilitate a smoother transition from program-to-career over the other.

Next, you need to decide what each school offers in its program. Each University is unique in designing their programs. There are several questions you could ask yourself to help narrow down your choices:

Do they offer unique partnerships? What areas of research do the faculty focus on? How do they manage practicums? What is the community like? What classes do they offer? Are there specialized programs or is it a general program? 

After you narrow down your options, you need to ensure that you meet the requirements for the program – every school has its requirements, so make yourself a checklist. 

The last thing you might need to think about is cost. Education is not cheap, so it is important to keep that in mind. Different programs across the country have different tuition fees. You also can’t forget about the cost of living. Going to your dream school would be amazing! Paying $2000 for a one-bedroom apartment? Less amazing. Money should never stop you from pursuing education, but it is an important factor to consider. 

Part II: What makes a successful candidate?

Most schools will ask you to outline your public health-related experience in your letter of intent. But what actually counts as public health experience? Luckily, the public health field is so broad that you can almost take any experience and write it into your letter. For example, I wrote about my time as an event coordinator and I related that particular experience to stakeholder management. In public health, we have to work with many different stakeholders in order to get the job done! Therefore, it is important to find value in all opportunities. 

If you’re someone who doesn’t have experience and would like to gain public health experience try working or volunteering at hospitals, non-profits or a company.

You may be wondering whether or not your GPA is good enough for the program? Our GPA is a number that a lot of us may dread. I have learned that your GPA does not define you. However, it is important to at least meet the minimum GPA requirement. If you don’t think you meet the minimum requirement, you can always take extra courses or do a fast-tracked program as I did! Do not let your GPA be the reason you don’t apply to a program. 

My final piece of advice is don’t let the imposter syndrome get you down. If you are considering working in Public Health, you definitely deserve to be there.

Part III: Writing a Statement of Purpose/Intent 

Writing a Statement of Purpose was the hardest part of my own application process, so here are some tips and tricks that helped me get through it:

#1: Check the requirements for the statement of purpose. Every school will clearly outline what information needs to be included in your statement. 

#2: Create a concept map of all of your work/volunteer experiences and try to understand how they relate to public health. Write down anything you learned from your experiences that may apply. 

#3: Some schools ask you why you want to go to their school in particular. I would suggest researching the school and the faculty and write about the unique things that they offer. It might also be important to contact alumni of the program and ask them about their experience. 

#4: Incorporate public health terminology into your statement. A great resource is the Canadian Core Competency document for Public Health Professionals which is filled with phrases and words you can use in your statement. Don’t rely on terminology too heavily though. If you’re creative with your writing, you can guide the reader along with how you fulfill the ideals of competency without explicitly saying “I fulfill X Competency because I have done Y.”

#5: Keep it simple for editing. Have one person edit for content, and the second person edit for grammar. 

Part IV: References

A good reference is someone with who you have a great relationship, someone who can speak to your academic journey, or someone who can speak to your work/volunteer experience. 

I would strongly suggest that you ask someone in advance to be your reference rather than just assuming that they would do it. I once had a professor who told the class that if we didn’t ask her to be a reference, she would automatically give the graduate school a horrible reference. If someone agrees to be a reference, send them your CV and statement of purpose to aid in writing your recommendation letter. Also, don’t be afraid to connect with your reference if they haven’t submitted their letter yet. Your reference shouldn’t be the reason you don’t get accepted to a program, either because they wrote a poor reference or they simply missed the deadline. 

Once you have received news from a school, it is important to send your references an update. You want to include them in that process because you wouldn’t have gotten into that school without them. Send them a thank you letter or email! 

Good luck with your application for grad school!

You got this! 

About the author

Kaman Sandhu

Kaman is a Master of Public Health student specializing in Health Policy and Management in Canada. She is passionate about helping others access equitable healthcare. She loves all areas of public health, but her background has focused on reproductive and sexual health.

If you would like to learn more about her graduate school journey, and public health follow her on Instagram @kaman.mph.